Do you have an excellent job in healthcare and love what you do? Working with patients can be an amazing experience, but it does come with the risk of infections from bloodborne pathogens.

Bacteria Under Microscope

If you want to make work enjoyable and safe, you should know how bloodborne pathogens spread. Then, you can reduce your risk of exposure and transmission.

Keep reading to learn more.

Bodily Fluids

One of the most common modes of transmission for bloodborne pathogens is bodily fluids. The fluids can include blood as well as other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). In this case, blood can mean blood, blood components, and blood products, such as globulins and albumin.

Other bodily fluids that can transmit bloodborne pathogens include:

  • Saliva
  • Amniotic fluid
  • Cerebrospinal fluid
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Semen
  • Synovial fluid
  • Pericardial fluid
  • Pleural fluid
  • Peritoneal fluid

Any other fluid that blood contaminates can also fall under this category. When it’s hard to differentiate between bodily fluids, you should also treat the fluids as potentially infectious.

If you ever work with these fluids, you should always be on the safe side. While some people won’t have a bloodborne pathogen, some can have one. It’s important to protect yourself, your coworkers, and patients.

Unfixed Tissues and Organs

Another way that bloodborne pathogens can spread is through unfixed organs and tissues. Aside from intact skin, the tissue or organ can be from a living or dead human. Fixed tissues don’t pose a risk of spreading bloodborne pathogens, so they aren’t as big of a deal.

However, you should consider if a lab has tested the cells. Some suppliers can certify that their cell lines don’t contain pathogens. If you don’t have any certification of the results, you should assume the cells do have a bloodborne pathogen.

Infected Cultures

If you work with tissue or organ cultures, you can also come into contact with bloodborne pathogens. Cell, tissue, and organ cultures can contain HIV, which is a common bloodborne pathogen. Culture medium and other solutions can contain HIV as well as hepatitis B, another bloodborne pathogen.

You could also get a bloodborne pathogen after contact with blood, tissues, and organs from infected animals. When working with these animals, be extra careful to avoid any infection.

Mucous Membranes

While it’s important to know the sources of bloodborne pathogens, you should consider how you can contract the disease. The mucous membranes are some of the easiest places for a bloodborne pathogen to enter your body.

If bodily fluid from someone with the infection gets into one of your mucous membranes, you’ll have an exposure. It could also cause transmission if you can’t get rid of the fluid before it gets into your body and bloodstream.

Consider the different mucous membranes and how a bloodborne pathogen can enter through one.


If you don’t wear a mask when working with someone with a bloodborne pathogen, you could put your mouth at risk. Any splash of bodily fluids could end up in your mouth, leading to exposure and perhaps transmission.

Wearing a mask can also help protect your mouth after working with patients. It can keep you from touching your face, which could keep you from transmitting bloodborne pathogens on your gloves to your mouth.

Even if you don’t have to wear a mask, wearing one can protect your mouth when working with patients or other samples that may have a bloodborne infection. That way, you can still breathe and talk, but you can protect yourself from transmission.

The mouth can also be a source of transmission, such as if you work in a dentist’s office. If you have a patient with a bloodborne infection, they could transmit it when you work on their mouth.


Your nose is another mucous membrane where a bloodborne pathogen can get into the body. Some of the transmission methods are the same as the mouth, such as if bodily fluids spray and get in your nose.

The nose is an easy way for many infections to enter your body. Luckily, you can wear a mask over your nose to protect it just like you would protect your mouth.

When you wear a mask, you can still breathe in and out, and you can still smell various scents and odors that you may need to detect. It can be a great tool for controlling infections without compromising your job.

While someone with a bloodborne pathogen can’t spread it through their nose, they could if they sneeze. If their sneeze contains saliva, the sneeze could transmit the pathogen when someone contacts the saliva.


Your eyes are another mucous membrane at risk of bloodborne pathogen transmission. Of course, you can have an exposure to a pathogen if a fluid splash gets in your eye.

You can use goggles or a face shield to protect your eyes when working with bodily fluids and bloodborne pathogens. Then, you can reduce your risk of the pathogen getting inside your body that way.

Fortunately, someone with an infection can’t transmit it just through their eyes. But it’s still important for anyone working with a patient to have the proper gear to stay safe.

Broken Skin

Another answer to “how do bloodborne pathogens enter the body” is through broken skin. If you have a cut, a sore, a sunburn, or even acne, pathogens can get in through one of those things. Pathogens can also enter through blisters and chapped skin.

While it’s okay for intact skin to contact bloodborne pathogens, you should protect any signs of broken skin. Make sure to wear protective clothing that covers any blisters or sunburns. Use bandaids to cover up smaller parts of your skin, like a cut or sore.

If blood from someone with a bloodborne pathogen gets into your broken skin, you could develop the infection. As always, keep the area clean. Change any bandaids or other dressings regularly, and use thick materials to protect your skin.

Sharps Injury

A sharps injury is another opportunity for a bloodborne pathogen to enter your body. If you accidentally prick yourself with a needle or another sharps object, that could transmit any pathogens on the object. Examples of sharps objects include:

  • Needles
  • Blades
  • Auto-injectors
  • Lancets
  • Syringes

Between uses of any reusable sharps, make sure you clean them thoroughly. You should also have a safe, secure place to store the objects. That can protect anyone else who may come into contact with the sharps while they’re in storage.

If a box of needles falls when someone reaches for them or another item, a needle could puncture the person’s skin. And if you didn’t properly disinfect the needle, it could transmit a bloodborne pathogen to the individual.

Sharing Needles

Sharing hypodermic needles intentionally can also spread bloodborne pathogens. This is a common mode of transmission in people who use drugs, and it can be a serious risk.

When using IV drugs, make sure to sanitize any needles beforehand. Then, you can reduce the risk of transmitting a pathogen to a different patient.

If you don’t have time to disinfect needles as often, make sure you have more needles available to use on patients. That way, you can still offer treatment, but you can reduce the risk of patients having an exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

Sexual Contact

Of course, sexual contact can also transmit bloodborne pathogens, such as HIV. Before having sex with a new partner, you should both get a test to make sure neither of you is HIV positive.

Then, you can use condoms or other devices to prevent transmitting HIV to the other person. You can also talk to your doctor about treatments for HIV if you do receive a positive test.

And if you both test negative, you don’t have to worry about the bloodborne pathogen. However, you should still consider other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and take the steps to stay safe.

Mother to Baby

Another way that HIV can enter the body is when a pregnant mother has the infection. The mother can transmit the infection before or during the baby’s birth, but you can take steps to lower the risk of transmission.

Pre-natal treatments are available to help protect the baby from the bloodborne pathogen. However, it is still a risk to consider if you want to have a child and you have HIV.

How to Prevent Bloodborne Pathogen Transmission

Because there are many ways to spread infections, you should consider different options for how to prevent bloodborne pathogen transmission. Luckily, you can reduce your risk of getting an infection, but you need to take some precautions.

Consider a few things you can do to protect yourself and others in your workplace.

Get a Vaccine

While not every bloodborne pathogen has an available vaccine, hepatitis B does. If you haven’t already, you should get the hepatitis B vaccine, especially if you frequently come into contact with it.

You can also ask any other employees to get the vaccine so that they aren’t as at much risk of getting the infection. 

Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Another excellent strategy to mitigate the spread of bloodborne pathogens is with PPE. You can wear gloves and gowns to keep bodily fluids off of your hands and the rest of your body.

A mask, face shield, and goggles can all help protect your face and mucous membranes. Make sure you know how to fit these items so that they provide a good seal. Then, you can make sure to protect the area when working with patients.

Clean Up Often

Another important part of preventing the spread of pathogens is to keep areas clean. You should wash any sheets or blankets after each patient. Make sure you also swap out gloves for a new pair between patients.

After a patient leaves, disinfect their room to get rid of any pathogens that may remain on surfaces. Then, you can make sure the next patient won’t have as much of a risk of getting the pathogen.

Provide Training to Employees

You should also offer training to any employees who may work with patients or other materials that may have an infection. Each employee should understand their risk and what they can do to stay safe.

Everyone should receive training when they start and any time regulations or policies change. Then, you can make sure everyone is always up to date on what they need to do.

What to Do After Contact

While you can give your employees every resource possible, they may still have an exposure to a bloodborne pathogen. In that case, your employees should know how to handle the exposure to prevent or treat the transmission.

Here are a few steps you and your employees can take after an exposure.

Wash the Wound

After a cut or needle stick, you should use soap and water to wash the wound. Try not to rub the area so that you can keep from spreading the pathogen. Instead, pat the area and keep it running under water to encourage slow bleeding.

Give the wound enough time to bleed a bit before covering it with gauze or a bandaid. Then, you can dress the wound to protect it from further infection.

Flush Your Mucous Membranes

If the exposure comes from a splash to the eyes, use water, sterile wash, or a saline solution to irrigate the eyes. Do this as soon as possible to keep the infection from getting further.

If your mouth or nose has an exposure, you can just use water to flush out the infection.

Flush your mucous membranes as much as you can to expel the pathogen. While you may still get an infection, this can reduce your exposure.

After you take these steps, report any exposure to your employer and seek medical care. Then, you can treat any signs of the infection.